Kodiak’s agriculture community has a new outreach & education coordinator to assist with rising costs, challenges with island farming

The cost of food production in rural Alaska continues to be challenging, but farmers, ranchers and growers of all kinds in Kodiak are adapting. As KMXT’s Davis Hovey reports, a new federally funded position on the island is hoping to help ease the growing pains.

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It’s a sunny afternoon in late-February, and a few inches of snow cover the ground as farm manager Kelli Foreman tends to her dozens of animals at Heritage Farm and Ranch in Kodiak. Foreman is a fifth generation farmer from Nebraska. Both her parents raised animals, her mother specifically had goats. Even though she didn’t think she would go down that same path, Foreman now owns and operates the only Grade A certified goat dairy in Alaska. Her dad even cautioned her, he’d never met a happy dairy farmer before.

“One goat can give anywhere from two quarts to a gallon per milking. And for me, I feed back the milk to the goat so it’s kind of a delicate balance between what is going to be fed to the baby goats and what I’ll end up processing,” Foreman explained.

With the gallons and gallons of milk her goats supply, Foreman makes cheese, skyr which is similar to a thick yogurt, soap, lotion, caramels, fudge, syrups and of course, ice cream.

Kelli Foreman tends to her goats at the Heritage Farm and Ranch in Kodiak. (Davis Hovey/KMXT)

To help feed her more than 20 goats, Foreman sometimes buys Chaffhaye from the C&E Feeds store in Bells Flats. Kodiak-raised Darlene Cain has owned the feed store for 18 years and comes from a family of local business owners. Cain’s store along with Paulette Selkirk’s Farm House Pantry Livestock Feed & Supplies, offers a variety of feed for Kodiak’s farm animals like goats, cows, chickens, pigeons, pigs, house pets like dogs and other animals that are found on Kodiak Island.

But the average cost of animal feed has gone up $100 or more per ton in some cases over the last few years.

A fully stocked supply room at the C&E Feed store in Bells Flats. (Davis Hovey/KMXT)

That’s where Ian Zacher, the new agriculture outreach and education coordinator with the Kodiak Soil and Water Conservation District, comes in. His position is funded by the federal government for one year, with the hope of extending it to five years. He started the job in early January, 2024 and this is the first time Zacher’s position has ever existed in Kodiak.

He said his role is to bring the local agriculture community together and help it thrive amidst rising costs.

“I think the problem is that it just prices everyone out on both ends, the consumer and on the producer’s end. I don’t believe that people would charge $12 to $14 for a dozen local eggs, if they could sell it cheaper,” Zacher said.

Foreman believes farmers can’t put all their eggs in one basket. So, she is finding ways to become more efficient with all her animals. Foreman manages 20 to 30 free range Woody Island cows, a couple of horses, one pregnant sow/female pig with about 10 babies expected, countless chickens, some ducks, thirteen rabbits, three sheep (some of which are pregnant), 20 to 30 goats (some of which are pregnant) and then seasonally turkeys in the fall.

“All summer I was able to figure out a model where they [the chickens] could free range. They ate half the feed that they normally do which helped keep my cost down. I didn’t have to ship anything in and then they just kept laying,” Foreman exclaimed.

Farmer Kelli Foreman gives some affection to her pregnant sow, who is potentially carrying 11 baby piglets. (Davis Hovey/KMXT)

With her sheep for example, Foreman shears them and processes it before sending the wool to Fairbanks to be turned into yarn. Then the profits from selling the yarn helps offset farm costs and helps feed local families as well.

Cain, at C&E Feed store said they’re looking to keep prices down by offering bulk orders for customers. Zacher supports that as well. The move will also allow the feed store to go longer without empty shelves, especially when Matson’s barge from Tacoma doesn’t make it to Kodiak for its weekly stop. Currently, when a feed shipment is delayed for weeks or even a couple months, Cain says she outsources locally and fills the gaps with other types of feed she has on hand as best she can.

Aside from the cost saving measures, Zacher wants to go a step further and have local agricultural knowledge be shared amongst the larger community in Kodiak.

“Because one of the things that we need to do, is not only help the ones that are already working, but we also need to pass this on,” he stated. “We still need people to put seeds in the ground and grow food.”

Foreman agrees, there needs to be more focus on the next generation of local farmers. Outreach to consumers is also important.

“To be honest I really am out to go for those informed consumers,” Foreman said. “I want people that are thoughtful and further, I want to do my part to help teach our young people, because those are informed consumers and we should all be that.”

Kodiak’s Heritage Farm and Ranch contains the state’s only certified Grade-A dairy farm. (Davis Hovey/KMXT)

Foreman already involves her own children in the day to day agriculture work at the farm. She also highlighted the need for a local Future Farmers of America program in Kodiak, also known as FFA, to teach high schoolers and young adults. There is currently a 4-H program that exists in Kodiak, through the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Zacher says he has scheduled multiple workshops starting in March, where local farmers and ranchers can share their knowledge with more of the agriculture community in Kodiak. More information can be found online at the Kodiak Soil & Water Conservation District’s website. Or by contacting Ian Zacher directly, via email – Ian.zacher@kodiaksoilandwater.org

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